Any student of English literature has read (or at least heard about) the exchange of the gravediggers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I often wondered if those gentlemen weren’t also body-snatchers. Hamlet is such a macabre play – there’s that whole deal with Yorik’s skull, too.
We see skulls and brains all over the place and we rarely react strongly to them. Why is that? They’re the seat of the human soul… or person-hood or whatever. Skulls are tattoos and cultural decorations, brains are colorful illustrations, and toys, and logos for popular board games.
Mary Roach, author of Stiff, would suggest that we can do this because those parts are disconnected from the cadaver. And the cadaver is disconnected from the live person. But if we work backward… it gets weird. It’s strange when we can see these pieces attached to a live body.
That’s why that one scene from the movie Hannibal is so disturbing. It’s a working, functional brain and skull. We shouldn’t be seeing it. Liotta certainly shouldn’t be eating bits of his own brain… that’s going too far.
But where’s the line? Why are we okay (more than okay, we don’t even notice) when we see a skull tattoo, but not quite as OK if it’s a tattoo of decaying flesh? Neither of them are real, and yet one gives me the heebie jeebies and I don’t bat an eye at the other.
Roach discusses plastic surgeons who practice their skills on cadaver heads (Stiff, ch. 1). The heads get nose jobs and face-lifts. Is that too far? I mean, it’s good that their practice isn’t occurring on living flesh, but isn’t it also bothersome that they aren’t working on live flesh? Isn’t it disturbing that their subjects are, literally, disembodied? Roach seems disturbed. And why is that?
I’m curious but I have no answers. What do you think? Where’s the disconnect for you?
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